One more job shouldn’t have mattered. I’d killed nobles before. You could float a whaling ship on the high-born blood I’ve spilled. Another nobles steps in to replace the last one. All equally corrupt. Why should an Empress be different? But she was. I watched her bodyguard’s face as they took him away. Dead eyes. I knew I’d pay for this one, and maybe I deserved to. A storm was coming that would shake apart everything I’d built.
– Daud, Knife Of Dunwall’s opening narration
At the time of Dishonored’s release there was a consensus among many who’d finished it that the story was missing something, and Corvo’s nature as a silent protagonist certainly didn’t help to reduce this impression.
It wasn’t until I had spent time with the well-received Knife Of Dunwall DLC that the game felt anywhere near close to the vision promised by the original release of Dishonored. I didn’t exactly think that DLC would change much beyond adding a few extra hours to the game, padding out the world a little, and tweaking some mechanics, but I was very wrong.
David Will (@TheTrashbang) wrote a rather thoughtful piece on the state of online virtual spaces and how we informally share spaces historically. This is a topic we briefly touched on in our Sven Co-op anniversary retrospective, and it’s nice to see others reflect on this unique facet of gaming.
A new documentary on Operation Flashpoint was released this past week. While I never personally played the franchise, many of my early online gaming pals were deeply invested in it’s clever, expansive gameplay. You may know it’s successor.
I wanted to take a moment in the vein of our mod retrospectives here and appreciate the grand absurdity that was Japanese Half-Life 2 SMOD (warning: gore). I personally spent many hours defeating metrocops armed with little more than soybeans. There was also SMOD: Tactical for the Brutal Doom fan in your life.
If you have a VR headset, I enthusiastically encourage you to spend a few minutes in Giphy’s Museum of GIFs. It isn’t the best VR experience around, but it’s definitely a fun and unique one.
Thief, Thief! What a great set of games that so many of us are familiar with. But I’m not here to talk about the immersive gameplay, the thoughtful stealth mechanics or the incredible level design of any of the entries.
No, I’m here to discuss something often neglected at the hands of critical analysis. The narrative. I largely regard Thief as a franchise to have one of the most thematically satisfying arcs in any game trilogy I have ever played. Everyone loves Garrett, the titular Master Thief, but few talk about the game’s amazing cast of villains and antagonistic factions.
The City in Thief is a living, breathing environment that is both timeless yet clearly present. An anachronistic city-state bubble in a medieval flavored era, it presents an atmosphere not too far off from the tech-fantasy realm portrayed in The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind.
The hand of The Builder is in the smallest nail, the tiniest gear, if they be worked well. The hand of The Builder is in the tallest tower, the grandest bridge, if they be worked well.
Intruder doesn’t really strike me as well-known despite the warm reception it has gotten from developers. It’s not often you ever see it mentioned or cropping up on twitter, which is a shame considering how forward thinking it is from a design perspective.
We’re a big fan of Immersive Sims at Rebind (I can’t think of many critical analysis sites for games that aren’t) but the genre is very under-represented in the multiplayer department. Because of this, it’s easy to think of Intruder as a Counter-Strike or SWAT variant.
SuperBoss has put in a lot fore-thought into the balance of their game through unconventional gadgets and mechanics like security cameras, mirrors, and the ability to be knocked off balance. If anything, the game has a lineage more in line with early rainbow six entries’ emphasis on finite tactical considerations, or games like Due Process and Project Reality spin-off SQUAD.
I can say so many things about this heart-wrenching, mournful title. It is a truly touching narrative of nostalgia and the way in which interpersonal resolution is put off until it’s too late.
The first thing to catch the eye is the outstanding visuals and the immense level of overproduction at play. YangBieng’s (@YangBieng) Nimaruroku (English title: “206”) is exceptionally well made, doubly so for being a simple but compelling bottle game.
The protagonist is established on the familiar foundation of a student living on her own and struggling with a relationship on the rocks. As you progress throughout her preparations for the school day, you get to take a moment to reflect on how every detail of her morning routine is a standing reminder of unfinished business.
A few years ago, I fell in love with the new wave of absurdist visual novels and playful experimental indies that threw you into a mineshaft of underground internet culture, littered with call-backs to unfamiliar cinema, and obscure jokes sourced from message boards or video services outside of the west like NicoNico.
Remix culture titles introduced their audience to a new cultural pantheon gilded with drama that often managed to pull at your heartstrings and immersing you in a narrative deeper than the comedic tone. Sonoshee’s (@sonoshit) Critters For Sale left me reflecting on the framework established by earlier visual novels Dog Of Dracula and its sequel that heavily leveraged the same style of satirical commentary.
Sven Co-op is almost old enough to drink in the US, having recently hit it’s 20th anniversary this past week.
Sven has a special place in my heart, it was the core bonding ritual of myself and many others during our younger days. Friends from other gaming communities would meet together in a plethora of maps, stretching from banal puzzle solving dungeon crawlers to absurd scenario based maps. Sven was outlandish and highly pulpy, at times coming off as a cross between Mixed Media and Video Games. Whatever tools and assets a level designer had at their disposal were fair use, and it was open season on the most exaggerated, cartoonish elements of the Half-Life mod universe.
Masahiro Ito (known for his work on Silent Hill) has created an incredibly delightful macabre wasteland setting, called Acid Buffer Zone, realized in models and paint, absolutely deserves a presence in video games.
If that isn’t enough artistic inspiration for you this weekend, take a look at the works of painters Boris Groh, and Keith Thompson
The Global Game Jam for 2019 is happening next week, find a local event in your area and participate!
At a glance, Noir mystery stealth title Dollhouse gives the impression of having overlap with The Ship but with a procedurally generated single-player twist. Multiplayer seems to revolve around the player being assigned targets with an interesting perspective-switching mechanic involved. Certainly worth a look closer to launch to see how the unique gameplay unfolds.
Retro-esque Rogue-Like Haque is on sale and seems like a fun time if you enjoy ASCII-Flavored tactics games.
Taking a night drive down the Columbia Gorge in Washington is an often mystical experience, the ambiance of cruising through heavy rain or passing moonlit pines propels you to another world. Games are no stranger to driving sequences, but developers are starting to use this as a vehicle for narrative instead of a simple gameplay set-piece.
Silverstring Media‘s Glitchhikers was a pleasantly cozy segue into night driving games. It’s a simple setup where you switch between lanes instead of focusing on the throttle, and this decision to make driving a more passive experience opens you up to explore the car as an environment of it’s own. It’s no longer a second-skin for your protagonist to get from one segment to another, but now a true space of its own.
Venturing further down the game’s enchanted interstate your vision becomes glitchy, alerting you to the arrival of a stowaway. These passengers materialize in and out of the seat whilst imparting unsolicited observations and philosophical conundrums to your weary ears. It’s a wonderful magical-realism piece that captures the essence of roadway meditation on life’s biggest questions. I grew rather fond of the dialogue system and often even goaded my friends into playing it in front of me as a makeshift Rorschach inkblot test.
A few years later, Arbitrary Metric‘s Paratopic decided to make heavy use of its own dry dusk-and-evening driving sequences peppered throughout the game. A synthesizer arrangement drifting from the radio offers up a Wendy Carlos homage and a moment of reflective respite between the game’s jump-cuts to break up the pacing. Similarly to Glitchhikers, a glance to the side would offer you a puzzling shift in the contents of your passenger seat. This visual trick helped to further the feel of a disjointed narrative delivered non-linearly from a potentially unreliable narrator, creating a sense of unease that makes you question the story’s already erratic jumps even more. (Disclosure: Arbitrary Metric’s Jessica Harvey is a contributor for Rebind but was not involved with this piece)
But not every game has to or will utilize driving the same way; Sea Green Games‘ upcoming TRANSMISSION seems like it will offer a pure low key cruising experience. Across moonlit nights and rain-slicked roads, synthesizers illuminate your ears as the neon lights do the same for your eyes. And as Glitchhikers proved, there’s plenty of room for Proteus style experiences. If we drive to relax in real life, why not in a game?
Even without true driving sequences, Kentucky Route Zero gives the player a similar experience of a waking dream while exploring uncharted territory on forgotten maps. It’s enough to pull you into the same feeling you get chasing ghosts down haunted highways and old service roads. And at the next turnoff, you’ll never know what you might discover about yourself.
(Content Warning: Given the heavy themes of self-harm, nihilism, and death in some of these titles, please proceed with caution if you don’t have an appetite for such themes. We will provide individual content warnings per title, as some are not as heavy.)